Tag Archives: Joe Devlin

Brenda Starr, Reporter (1945, Wallace Fox)

Brenda Starr, Reporter never has a chance. Worse, lead Joan Woodbury never has a chance. Of all the characters in Brenda Starr, Woodbury gets the worst. Well, wait. No. Lottie Harrison gets the worst part. She’s Woodbury’s cousin (and roommate) and she’s constantly making fat jokes at her own expense. Other characters get close, but Harrison gets the majority of the worst jokes. It’s unfortunate–but is apparently comic strip accurate.

Based on my cursory research–I read Brenda Starr back in the nineties for a bit, but had no idea going into the serial knowing who was from the comic strip and who wasn’t. Anyway, based on cursory research, only William ‘Billy’ Benedict is playing another comic strip character. He’s the idiot newsroom gopher. The script plays him for dumb laughs, but it never works. Benedict’s terrible, Fox’s direction of him (and the actors in general) is lousy, and the script isn’t funny. So they’re these painful scenes. And Benedict is on the bottom of the Brenda Starr caste system. It goes Benedict, dimwit copper Joe Devlin, photographer Syd Saylor, Woodbury herself, then Kane Richmond is at the top of the food chain. Alongside Frank Jaquet as Woodbury and Saylor’s boss, which is weird.

Richmond’s the dreamy police lieutenant who Woodbury always seems to be competing with. Because all either of them do is go to the scenes of crimes, either in progress or to follow-up, and get in trouble with the bad guys. Richmond never investigates anything. Woodbury never actually publishes stories. The Reporter part of the title is a complete misnomer after the third or fourth chapter because Woodbury becomes Richmond’s de facto deputy. Any information she finds, she has to turn over to Richmond and get permission to use it in a story. Managing editor Jaquet isn’t a crusader, he’s a stooge for the cops and sells Woodbury out every chance he can get.

And it’s no spoiler to say the serial isn’t about Woodbury going out against orders and saving the day. It’s not. It’s about her going out against orders and not saving the day until she learns her lesson. Once she learns her lesson, the bad guys start kidnapping her more. They’ve also hold her hostage various times throughout. Sometimes Woodbury gets to save herself, usually it’s up to Richmond.

Shocker the serial is much better when it’s Woodbury and not Richmond doing the saving. Richmond’s obnoxious and not very good. Woodbury’s sympathetic and fine in a poorly written part, but her performance never impresses. She’s likable though. She’s totally solid lead and if she got to do anything solo, the middle chapters of Starr would work much better.

It probably wouldn’t save the thing. The ending’s real, real bad. The serial rallies towards the end, at least in parts, with this subplot involving Ernie Adams and Wheeler Oakman. They’re two-bit crooks who are trying to blackmail George Meeker’s gang leader. He works for an unknown boss who speaks to Meeker and the gang. Starr’s constant with its thugs–Jack Ingram, Anthony Warde, and John Merton are more sympathetic than most of the rest of the cast too. Especially Ingram. Ingram can’t hide his exasperation with the serial from his face. It’s kind of funny.

Meeker’s pretty good. Adams and Oakman are both better than good, Adams more often. Oakman’s scenes with Woodbury are pretty weak, unfortunately, but because of the script.

Before I forget, sometimes screenwriters Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton repeat conversations. Especially with Adams and Oakman. It’s not just the same expository information, it’s the same lines. From the same character. And it doesn’t seem to be a mimeograph error, it seems like filler.

Okay, back to the acting. Saylor’s bad when he’s the butt of jokes, better when he’s sincere (worrying about Woodbury, kind of a dopey uncle), sometimes real funny when he’s doing physical humor, sometimes not. It all depends on how much Fox’s setups are going to mess things up. Fox will occasionally have a good action sequence or a good big scene but it’s somehow never encouraging; it’s always clear they’re flukes.

The script has occasional flukes too. Marion Burns is awesome as this magician who Adams and Oakman enlist to get Meeker. She gets a three or four chapter arc. Cay Forester gets an arc early on, which is unfortunately lost. Brenda Starr, Reporter is incomplete. It was thought entirely lost until it was restored in 2011, unseen for almost seventy years. The missing material is from early chapters and might have a good performance from Forester. She’s not in what’s left enough to gauge her performance. But it’s not like more Brenda Starr would make anything better. The serial forgets subplots–or introduces big ones deus ex machina. It doesn’t build to anything. A bad serial can seem like all it needs is the first chapter and the last, everything in between is inconsequential. Brenda Starr isn’t consequential until the penultimate chapter. And even then the last two episodes would be full of redundancies. There’s just no story.

The basic plot has Oakman knowing about a payroll heist, which happens before the first chapter starts. Instead of investigating the heist, idiot cops Richmond and Devlin hound Woodbury, who’s at least managing to investigate something. Meanwhile, Meeker is a model citizen running a crime empire out of a night club. Meeker plays it like a sleaze-bag running a crime empire out a night club, yet Richmond and Jaquet treat him like a prince. Even for what’s obviously a cheap, rushed serial, Starr gets mind-boggling dumb.

There’s some bad day for night photography from Ira H. Morgan. Brenda Starr mostly takes place at night–Woodbury will get woken up at two in the morning and go out and get in trouble while Harrison is at home cooking for her. Harrison cooks for everyone. Lamb, Plympton, and Brenda Starr creator Dale Messick sure are comedic geniuses. But there are a lot of poorly lighted night scenes.

There’s not much to like about Brenda Starr, Reporter. It makes casualties out its better cast members. Its visual range is from ugly to low mundane. It’s a fail because of the production, not the cast. Not even the bad ones. Not even Richmond’s cop. Who you end up hissing after a while, he’s such a patronizing dick.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Wallace Fox; screenplay by Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton, based on the comic strip by Dale Messick; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Charles Henkel Jr.; music by Edward J. Kay; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joan Woodbury (Brenda Starr), Kane Richmond (Lt. Larry Farrell), Syd Saylor (Chuck Allen), George Meeker (Frank Smith), Wheeler Oakman (Heller), Cay Forester (Vera Harvey), Marion Burns (Zelda), Lottie Harrison (Abretha), Ernie Adams (Charlie), Jack Ingram (Kruger), Anthony Warde (Muller), John Merton (Joe Schultz), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Pesky), and Joe Devlin (Sgt. Tim Brown).


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Brenda Starr, Reporter (1945, Wallace Fox), Chapter 13: The Mystery of the Payroll

While most of the thirteen chapters of Brenda Starr, Reporter don’t deal with it, The Mystery of the Payroll is what the whole thing is supposedly about. And it gets solved in the last chapter. Though not really. I mean, it’s solved, but not satisfactorily. In fact, one of the big twists just raising more questions. Luckily, there’s no time to answer them because the serial is over.

After what should be an action-packed cliffhanger resolution (it isn’t, though there’s at least some action in a long shot), the story moves back to the newspaper office. Joan Woodbury is in trouble again with boss Frank Jaquet for disobeying copper Kane Richmond. Pretty soon, there’s a deus ex machina reveal and the wrap-up begins.

I suppose it’s efficiently executed; there’s quite a bit of wrapping up to do, even if none of it involves Woodbury. Given how poorly the serial leaves her, it’s probably better she didn’t get any of that material. It’s mostly Syd Saylor and William ‘Billy’ Benedict.

This chapter might be Benedict’s least annoying performance in the serial. He’s not a constant drag on the proceeding like usual. Or it might just be the “final chapter” energy.

Payroll is a disappointing end to a disappointing serial. It might have been nice, at least once, for Woodbury to take the titular Reporter job seriously instead of just being an adventurer.

Of course, the same goes for inept copper Richmond.

Brenda Starr, Reporter is a drag. Mystery of the Payroll might have been able to brace it after the last few chapters’ general competence. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

CREDITS

Directed by Wallace Fox; screenplay by Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton, based on the comic strip by Dale Messick; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Charles Henkel Jr.; music by Edward J. Kay; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joan Woodbury (Brenda Starr), Kane Richmond (Lt. Larry Farrell), Syd Saylor (Chuck Allen), George Meeker (Frank Smith), Wheeler Oakman (Heller), Cay Forester (Vera Harvey), Marion Burns (Zelda), Lottie Harrison (Abretha), Ernie Adams (Charlie), Jack Ingram (Kruger), Anthony Warde (Muller), John Merton (Joe Schultz), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Pesky), and Joe Devlin (Sgt. Tim Brown).


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Brenda Starr, Reporter (1945, Wallace Fox), Chapter 12: Murder at Night

Murder at Night features two murders at night. It doesn’t, however, have much night. Ira H. Morgan’s day-for-night photography is so inept, most of the action seems like it’s taking place late afternoon. The visual cues run contrary to the script, which has all the action taking place over hours.

So, basically, no one sleeps in Brenda Starr. Cousin Lottie Harrison stays up all night in case Joan Woodbury comes home and needs a meal cooked for her (and any guests).

Oddly enough, the script introduces a whole new element–there’s a mole for the bad guy at Woodbury’s newspaper. Woodbury doesn’t even know the bad guy’s identity. Everyone thinks George Meeker is on the up-and-up, not realizing he’s running a gang for the still unseen (and not really heard from lately) “Big Boss.”

There’s some energy from the finale chase scene, which does set up a real cliffhanger, but the chapter–penultimate or not–is more of the same from Brenda Starr. There are double-crosses, there are betrayals, there is repetitive dialogue. Practically all of Wheeler Oakman’s dialogue involves begging Woodbury to turn him over to the cops; she always refuses, with her reasons getting thinner as the chapter progresses.

The chapter also has a pointless flashback to another chapter. Time killer.

There’s a lot to wrap up in the final chapter–the “Big Boss,” the mole, the secret code (presumably the location of some stolen money)–and Starr needs to use all its remaining time wisely, which seems highly unlikely given the serial to this point.

CREDITS

Directed by Wallace Fox; screenplay by Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton, based on the comic strip by Dale Messick; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Charles Henkel Jr.; music by Edward J. Kay; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joan Woodbury (Brenda Starr), Kane Richmond (Lt. Larry Farrell), Syd Saylor (Chuck Allen), George Meeker (Frank Smith), Wheeler Oakman (Heller), Cay Forester (Vera Harvey), Marion Burns (Zelda), Lottie Harrison (Abretha), Ernie Adams (Charlie), Jack Ingram (Kruger), Anthony Warde (Muller), John Merton (Joe Schultz), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Pesky), and Joe Devlin (Sgt. Tim Brown).


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Brenda Starr, Reporter (1945, Wallace Fox), Chapter 11: On the Spot

This chapter has Joan Woodbury not just getting out of a trap, she executes a great plan for it too. A surprising one. Not a lot of surprises in Brenda Starr, Reporter, so getting any of significance–even this late (On the Spot is the penultimate penultimate chapter)–is nice.

Overall, it’s not a bad chapter. Too much with idiot cop Joe Devlin. Starr’s either got condescending super-cop Kane Richmond (who hasn’t solved a single thing… though neither has Woodbury) or idiot Devlin. On the Spot gives Devlin the illusion of more to do, but then cuts away when it’s his turn.

Syd Saylor’s playing the same type of part–dimwit sidekick–but he’s at least good at it. And his character isn’t as much of a dimwit.

After the escape sequence, it’s all about Ernie Adams scheming until the cliffhanger. Of course Woodbury has inserted herself into that situation; she’s tried to call for back up, but William ‘Billy’ Benedict messes it up.

There are a lot of thin characters in Brenda Starr but Benedict’s got the worst. Whenever he shows up on screen, the serial becomes practically intolerable. I’m not sure if anyone could play the role of office numbskull with charm, but Benedict doesn’t.

Still, it’s a lot better of a chapter than the serial usually puts out.

CREDITS

Directed by Wallace Fox; screenplay by Ande Lamb and George H. Plympton, based on the comic strip by Dale Messick; director of photography, Ira H. Morgan; edited by Charles Henkel Jr.; music by Edward J. Kay; produced by Sam Katzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joan Woodbury (Brenda Starr), Kane Richmond (Lt. Larry Farrell), Syd Saylor (Chuck Allen), George Meeker (Frank Smith), Wheeler Oakman (Heller), Cay Forester (Vera Harvey), Marion Burns (Zelda), Lottie Harrison (Abretha), Ernie Adams (Charlie), Jack Ingram (Kruger), Anthony Warde (Muller), John Merton (Joe Schultz), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Pesky), and Joe Devlin (Sgt. Tim Brown).


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